Broward Prosecutor and Stephanie Kraft Ally Team Up To Push Controversial School Boundary Change

Catherine Maus, left, leans over to consult with Mary Fertig, seated on right, during a January 13, 2015 school board boundary workshop

The Broward State Attorney who prosecuted convicted School Board member Stephanie Kraft has teamed up with Kraft’s long-time ally in a bid to change school boundaries to benefit a Fort Lauderdale neighborhood. Assistant State Attorney Catherine Maus, leader of the Victoria Park Civic Association (VPCA), wants school boundaries changed for her neighborhood. Currently, Victoria Park lies within the boundaries of Walker Elementary, a predominantly black school in Fort Lauderdale. For years, residents have tried to gain greater access to Virginia Shuman Young Elementary, the 75% white school in the Victoria Park neighborhood. When a Broward schools boundary committee unanimously rejected a proposal to give Victoria Park students more access to Virginia Shuman Young, Maus and her team enlisted the help of longtime school board activist Mary Fertig.

During the same time period, Catherine Maus prosecuted Stephanie Kraft on bribery and public corruption charges. In December, a Broward jury convicted Kraft of official misconduct. At Kraft’s sentencing hearing before Judge Matt Destry, dozens of Kraft supporters filled the courtroom. To the shock of many courthouse insiders, Destry sentenced Kraft to probation and withheld adjudication. During his sentencing, Destry mentioned the Kraft supporters in the courtroom.

“Destry said he was swayed by an outpouring of support from people who said they were helped by Kraft over the years, before, during and after her term on the school board.

‘I cannot conclude that a simple misstep in your life defines your career,’ Destry said. ‘We’re going to give you a chance to make this right, because you deserve it.’”

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the huge show of support for Kraft was orchestrated by activist Mary Fertig.

In the Sun-Sentinel’s “Broward Politics” twitter feed, reporters detailed Fertig’s efforts to bring Kraft supporters to court. On December 16, the reporter tweeted, “Bond denied for convicted ex-school board member Stephanie Kraft. Despite efforts of activist Mary Fertig to have show of support.” The reporter then tweeted, “Activist Mary Fertig email: ‘Please come if you can to sit in the courtroom and show support’ for convicted school board member.”

Stephanie Kraft and Mary Fertig have been longtime allies. In 1998, Fertig orchestrated Kraft’s election to the Broward School Board. The Sun-Sentinel reported, “Kraft’s team included longtime parent activist Mary Fertig….The group was referred to as the ‘Steel Magnolias.’” Their relationship grew while Kraft served on the school board.

In 1999, Kraft sought permission from the Florida Ethics Commission to work at a law firm which was suing the Broward County School District. Shockingly, The Commission ruled it would not be a conflict of interest. “Kraft, a lawyer in private practice, wants to research and write briefs on insurance cases for Fertig and Grambling, the Fort Lauderdale firm representing Citizens Concerned About Our Children.” Mary Fertig works with her husband Christopher Fertig, an attorney, at Fertig and Grambling.

KRAFT PROSECUTOR MEETS WITH KRAFT ALLY AT FERTIG LAW FIRM

Multiple sources say Catherine Maus met with Mary Fertig at the law offices of Fertig and Grambling to discuss the school boundary issue. Sources attended two meetings with Maus, Fertig, local attorney Carey Villeneuve and Victoria Park resident Ana Corujo. Sources say Fertig, armed with a thick binder of school documents and maps, presided over both meetings. Sources say Fertig attempted to convince concerned Harbordale Elementary parents to accept a brand new boundary proposal.

After unanimously rejecting the original Victoria Park/Virginia Shuman Young proposal on December 11, 2014, the Broward Schools boundary committee discussed a 2013 proposal which would have sent Victoria Park students to Harbordale Elementary. Committee member Robert Mayersohn stated that proposal was a non-starter due to laws requiring safe sidewalks for children walking to school. According to Mayersohn, the law mandates sidewalks be at least 48 inches in width. Since Victoria Park and Harbordale is divided by the New River, students would have to walk through the Kinney Tunnel on Federal Highway. The width of the tunnel sidewalk is just 42 inches.

The committee never voted to bring the 2013 Harbordale proposal before the Broward County School Board. Yet, at the January 13, 2015 boundary workshop, school district administrators presented the 2013 Harbordale proposal. Leslie Brown, Chief Portfolio Services Officer for Broward County Public Schools, gave a convoluted story of how this new proposal came before the board. Brown claimed Ana Corujo had amended her 2014-15 Victoria Park/Virginia Shuman Young proposal, but the boundary committee was unable to vote on it due to a loss of quorum. Later, Brown would claim a boundary committee member came up with the proposal but lack of quorum prevented a vote on the matter.

Now, according to sources who attended the meetings at Fertig and Grambling, the proposal appears to have been crafted by Catherine Maus and Mary Fertig in January and February 2015.

At the January 13th workshop, “prominent Victoria Park realtor” Charlie King confirmed Fertig, “was helping us with this.” Maus was photographed consulting with Fertig during a lunch break at the workshop.

Even though the proposal had very little vetting and public input from the affected communities, Superintendent Robert Runcie adopted the Maus/Ferting plan.

REDBROWARD has obtained an email written by Catherine Maus to the Fort Lauderdale City Commission. Maus attempted to get the commission to pass a resolution supporting Runcie’s new plan. Maus copied the February 19, 2015 email to Corujo, Villenueve and Mary Fertig.

When REDBROWARD asked when, where and how many times she met with Fertig, Maus refused comment.

Did Maus meet with Fertig during the Stephanie Kraft trial? Did Maus realize Fertig was orchestrating courtroom theatrics in a high-profile case she was prosecuting?

Did Maus disclose her meetings with Fertig at the law offices of Fertig and Grambling to Broward State Attorney Mike Satz? Does Satz or Maus see any conflict with Maus and Fertig working together?

The Broward State Attorney’s office confirmed Catherine Maus is the prosector for Mitchell Kraft’s upcoming trial in March. He faces similar public corruption charges as his wife, Stephanie Kraft faced. Will Mary Fertig gather supporters for his trial too?

Broward residents deserve answers.

(Correction: Ana Corujo was misidentified in a earlier version of the story. Corujo is a Victoria Park “resident” not a Victoria Park “realtor.” Damn autocorrect. We regret the error.)

 

Catherine Maus email was sent to Mary fertig

Public Defender Wants Broward Judge Jay Hurley Removed From Bond Court

Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein wants a Broward Judge transferred from the bright spotlight of bond court. In a letter to Chief Judge Peter Weinstein, Finkelstein requests “the immediate transfer of Judge John ‘Jay’ Hurley from magistrate court.” Finkelstein claims Hurley “repeatedly and consistently has communications in court outside the earshot of arrestees in the jail making a complete sham of the right to be present and heard at a critical stage of a criminal proceeding.”

Finkelstein, best known as WSVN Channel 7 legal expert “Help Me Howard,” states he has sent numerous video copies of Hurley’s behavior to the Chief Judge. He says, “almost all of them contain video of Judge Hurley excluding defendants from discussion about their own cases.” Finkelstein writes the sidebars happen with audio muted, “preventing defendants…from hearing what is said.”

Finkelstein writes, “not only does Judge Hurley discuss legal and factual issues in a defendant’s case, he often ridicules and mocks the defendants.” He says Hurley, “makes these inappropriate statements from the bench….[Hurley] seems to think that if he hits the mute button, he can say whatever he wants from the bench.” Finkelstein goes on to ask for a change in the way defendants are forced to appear via video from the jail.

This is not the first time Howard Finkelstein has challenged the actions of Judge Hurley. In January, REDBROWARD reported Hurley refused to speak with the local media even though he uses them to promote his website. WSVN Channel 7 reported Hurley “ignored” their questions about bias complaints filed against him by the Broward Public Defender’s Office. WSVN interviewed Finkelstein in front of the Broward County courthouse. Hurley was standing a few feet away. REDBROWARD spotted the media circus while attending a judicial robing ceremony.

Hurley was accused of bias against homeless defendants appearing before him in bond court. Finkelstein “singled out Broward County Circuit Judge John Hurley in particular, saying he tossed out a public defender after going back and forth with her on several occasions. The defender has filed two complaints with Broward Chief Judge Peter Weinstein.”

Hurley has a become a household name thanks to his over-the-top antics in Broward bond court. Hurley reads the charges for maximum dramatic effect which usually gets airtime on the local news.

The bond court drama plays out over a courthouse feed viewed by law enforcement, bail bondsmen and the media. On Hurley’s website, the bond court feed from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel is prominently displayed.  The spartan site contains little else. Oddly enough, if you click the “sample video” link on his website, you will find a Twitter post where Hurley is refererred to as an “asshole.”

Hurley, a fraternity brother of former Governor Charlie Crist, faces re-election in 2016. Hurley has not filed any campaign paperwork. Finkelstein and other courthouse observers wondered why Judge Hurley has a website. The website is operated by local Democrat operative Ron Mills of RainbowUsa hosting.

When contacted by REDBROWARD, Mills said Hurley is “fully aware of the website.” He said he is operating the website as a volunteer. Mills said Hurley is “definitely aware of the site….it gets lots of hits.”

Earlier this month, REDBROWARD revealed Hurley holds weekly breakfast meetings with a wide array of political consultants, operatives and vendors at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. Last year, REDBROWARD observed Hurley meeting with his 2010 political consultant Norm Leonard. Now, pictures posted on Facebook show Hurley meeting with several more operatives. Judge Hurley has not filed campaign paperwork for the 2016 election.

Photographs from Saturday’s meeting at the Jetway Cafe show Judge Hurley having breakfast with Democrat political consultants David Brown, Barry Harris and Dan Lewis. Even though Hurley, a college fraternity brother of former Governor Charlie Crist, often portrays himself as a “tea party” Republican, insiders say Hurley has dealt with Democrat operatives such a Jack Shifrel and Judy Stern.

Courthouse insiders question why Judge Hurley maintains such a high political profile. Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told REDBROWARD he had no idea why a sitting judge would act this way.

Broward Elections Attorney Blasts “Vultures” In Bid To Silence Media

Broward Supervisor of Elections lawyer Burnadette Norris Weeks continues her campaign to silence this website. Norris Weeks sent another email filled with odd references to shadowy characters controlling the editorial content of the Daily Broward. Today Norris Weeks wrote, “While you…have been paid to post this racist garbage and probably think it’s fun, let’s hope that the vultures are also planning to defend you.” 

Vultures?

Yesterday, REDBROWARD posted Norris Weeks first email detailing her belief that local lobbyist Judy Stern fed information to REDBROWARD. Clearly, Norris Weeks is NOT a regular reader of the website. Is Norris Weeks calling Stern a “vulture?”

As for Norris Weeks continued complaints about the Lin LLC story, our original report never claimed Gerald Lindor was a part of Right Perspective Development Group LLC. We produced records showing Lindor named in a document notarized by Norris Weeks. (CORRECTION: Burnadette Norris Weeks SIGNED the document, but she did not notarize the document. It was notarized by Oscar L. Tortolero. The original REDBROWARD story contained the correct information. We apologize for the confusion.–editor.)

Burnadette Norris Weeks, a lawyer for Brenda Snipes and  the City of West Park, has threatened to shut down the Daily Broward website.

Here is Norris Weeks latest email:

I wanted to correct your recent post.  I did not “admit that your “stories” contain true matters.”  Rather, I stated, in writing, “you have taken marginally true matters and mixed with information that is not true in any way.” 

 I stand by my previous e-mail in all respects.  Among other untrue matters that you have posted, Lindor has never had anything to do with Right Perspective Development Group LLC .  Contrary to your recent post, there are no records or other evidence to support same (because it’s not true). Again, I am asking that you remove the malicious references that are proving to be damaging to my longstanding good name and professional reputation.

 While you and your partner have been paid to post this racist garbage and probably think it’s fun, let’s hope that the vultures are also planning to defend you.